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Uggy Deal Works Out


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By Tom Candiotti

Special to ESPN Insider


Give credit to the Florida Marlins' front office. If the Marlins can hold on to their lead in the NL wild-card race, a wise midseason deal will be a big reason why.


When it became clear that the Texas Rangers would be shopping reliever Ugueth Urbina before the trade deadline, the prevailing thought in baseball circles was that big-market clubs like the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox would get him. So it surprised many observers when Florida landed the 29-year-old right-hander.


Urbina was Texas' closer, and the Marlins already had a closer, Braden Looper. But when you add a relief pitcher of Urbina's caliber, it shortens the game, closing the opponent's window of opportunity.


Ugueth Urbina

Relief Pitcher

Florida Marlins






2.92 29 69 74 75 29



The Marlins are built on strong starting pitching and a scrappy lineup -- led by Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo -- that scratches out runs playing small ball (via the steal, hit-and-run, etc.). With that type of offense, pitching is a priority ... and a quality bullpen is imperative.


Look no further than the performance of Anaheim Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez in last year's postseason to see the benefit of a hard-throwing setup man.


Urbina has worked almost exclusively as Florida's setup guy (11 holds, three saves). But we know he's capable of closing if needed, so he's veteran insurance if Looper is injured or ineffective.


Urbina has been throwing lights-out stuff for the Marlins (1.53 ERA since the trade). He has an electric arm -- his fastball clocks routinely at 95-97 mph. His overpowering fastball sets the pace, but Urbina also throws a nasty split-fingered fastball and a hard slider. And I've been told that the location on his fastball has been impeccable this season.


When a pitcher who throws that hard is spotting his pitches with pinpoint control, it's tough on any hitter. His strikeout-walk ratio is excellent (34-11 with Florida) as is his walks-and-hits-per-innings number (0.96).


Urbina has always had good stuff, but he's more experienced now and he realizes the importance of location and executing his pitches. When I've seen him pitch this year, he's consistently gotten ahead in the count and displayed tremendous control and command.


The other key factor in Urbina's success this year has been his positive approach to his setup role. It looks like he's accepted this less-glamorous role without complaining or pouting. Down the road, he could easily return to being a closer, in Florida or elsewhere.


But I don't think Urbina is concerned right now about not being a closer. He's throwing meaningful innings in the thick of a pennant race, and he knows his role is vital. Manager Jack McKeon has really bonded the Marlins, impressing upon his young players that the team comes first. And Urbina has been the ultimate team player this season.



ESPN baseball analyst Tom Candiotti won 151 games with a 3.73 ERA in 16 major-league seasons. He contributes regularly to ESPN.com.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003


ESPN: [email protected] Fri., 7:05 PM ET



By Tony Gwynn

Special to ESPN Insider


The Philadelphia Phillies and Florida Marlins square off in a three-game series starting Tuesday night, with the NL wild card hanging in the balance. And it's conceivable that a decision made by Phillies manager Admin Bowa and his counterpart, Marlins manager, Jack McKeon will decide whose team is playing in October.


Each manager is well-suited for the challenge. I know, because I played for both -- in the same season.






In my 20-year career with the San Diego Padres, I played for seven managers. In 1988, Bowa started the season as San Diego's skipper, but he didn't finish it. That's because McKeon, then the Padres' GM, fired Bowa after 46 games -- and then assumed the manager's duties.


McKeon and Bowa are a study in contrasts. McKeon is laid-back. Bowa is intense. Bowa is prone to public, in-your-face confrontations with players. McKeon favors a behind-closed-door approach to player discipline.


But they're also similar. Both men are fueled by the same burning desire to win. Both are extremely knowledgeable about the game. And both are sticklers for detail. They just vary in their style and how they convey it.


McKeon and Bowa both pay attention to the little things. They're observant about day-to-day details, and they get after guys who don't work at their craft.


If a player prepares and works hard at his craft, he won't hear anything from either manager. But if a player slacks off, neither will stand for it. Their way of dealing with it, though, varies. With Bowa, his passion for the game comes flying out. He's seen as a hothead -- and his intensity is certainly legendary.


If Admin has something to say, there's no question he'll say it. But if you do your job, you won't have a problem. It just bothers him when someone's work ethic is lacking. He demands effort, and if he doesn't see it happening, he gets in your face. He doesn't care about calling someone out loudly in front of the team, whereas Jack will call a player in his office and chew him out privately.


Bowa is capable of a blowup (or two or three) each season. I've seen him take a postgame spread and throw it around the clubhouse more than once. As a player, that gets tiresome, but you need to learn to avoid the mistakes that set him off.


Both men are fueled by the same burning desire to win. And both are sticklers for detail.

I spoke with Admin recently, and at the time he said he felt there were some guys on his Phillies who weren't taking care of business. He erupted a couple weeks ago in a closed-door clubhouse meeting, but reporters could hear him clearly through those doors.


Most players will gravitate toward Jack -- especially young guys -- but I enjoyed playing for both. Jack has an ability to put young players at ease. With Admin, it's the opposite. Veterans respect him, though, for getting the most out of his players.


In San Diego in '88, Bowa would get upset with our team, which was full of younger guys, and they didn't know how to take it. They had a tough time understanding it and took the yelling personally. When McKeon stepped in, he got an instant response. And that's why he's worked wonders with a young Florida team this year since taking over in May for Jeff Torborg (who's also known for being a player's manager). I'm not surprised that the Marlins have played well for McKeon. He told me recently that he's really enjoyed this group of guys.


If I had to choose one as my manager, I would pick Admin. But young players are more comfortable with Jack.


Dick Williams was my first manager, and he was in my face all the time. The beauty of it is that in my first full season with the Padres, I led the league in hitting -- and Williams still chewed me out whenever I deserved it. He forced me to think about situations ahead of time so I would be ready.


I loved both McKeon and Bowa because both wanted to win, and neither was afraid to do what needed to be done to make his team a winner. Both loved the game and loved to compete. They expected us to excel.


Now that I'm the head coach at San Diego State, I've taken from both styles. I've borrowed from my other managers too (like Bruce Bochy). But there's a lot of Admin Bowa and Jack McKeon in me.



Tony Gwynn, a career .338 hitter with the Padres, is the head baseball coach at San Diego State and an ESPN baseball analyst.



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